“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” ― Winston Churchill
I am confessing right now that I did NOT read "Throne of Glass "prior to this book. I did read the first prequel novella. But the reviews for "Throne of Glass" threw me off: it sounded like a high fantasy version of "The Hunger Games", complete with love triangle and death match fights. Been there, done that, got the Mockingjay pin.
However, I LOVE me a good teenage girl assassin. Like Mara Jade in Timothy Zahn's "Allegiance" and "Choices of One" (don't let the Star Wars association throw you off, Mara is one smart, kick ass heroine. Especially her snotty, arrogant teenage version.) And I adore Robin LeFever's assassin nuns in"Grave Mercy." So I happily picked up Crown of Midnight.
And for the first half of the book: IT ROCKED. Seriously. ROCKED. Second half....um. Yeah. Not so much.
Celaena is a trained assassin who, in the last book, became the King's Champion, tasked with carrying out whatever deadly assignment the despotic King of Ardalan wishes her to do. In the first book, Celaena was apparently in a love triangle with Chaol, the Captain of the King's Guard, and Dorian, the son and heir to the King. The love triangle is mostly resolved early in this book, although it's still left open-ended enough that Maas can take it wherever she wants to go.
For my part, as someone who read only this book, Dorian is by far the more interesting and multi-dimensional character. Chaol comes across as your average hot but dumb muscle-bound jock - we are told over and over that Celaena loves him and he her, but we're never really shown why she cares for him or why he is worthy of her love other than, hey, he's hot (if prone to boneheaded mistakes). Yes, he's loyal, but so is Fleetfoot. And of the two, Fleetfloot seemed to have more intelligence, as well as more respect for Celaena's abilities. Dorian, on the other hand, actually has a character arc in this book.
Celaena is tasked by the King with rooting out and killing various traitors to his totalitarian regime. She has her own way of dealing with her assignments - got to keep her sympathetic - until she runs up against a target she knows from her days in the Assassin's Guild. And the first half of the story, as Celaena tries to investigate the rebels, is involving with plenty of intrigue, suspense, romance, friendship bonding, and action. I couldn't stop turning the pages.
And then Something Horrible happens.
Celaena's reaction to the Something Horrible is realistic and believable, and it throws a major obstacle into most of her relationships. However, the second half of the novel, as Celaena tries to avenge the Something Horrible and discover why it happened, starts to devolve into Author Ex Machina. Celaena makes discoveries and Things Happen that appear motivated solely because hey, the author needed them to happen. So here, have some new powers and here, have a book that just magically pops up whenever you need to solve a problem. For a kingdom where magic has been outlawed and its practitioners put to instant death, an awful lot of it starts flying around.
And the major revelation at the end about Celaena feels forced because the information is presented as something Celaena always knew about herself, and yet that information never once entered into her thoughts and her decisions when it logically should have. So much for plot logic. It also makes Celaena an unreliable narrator - who knows what else the girl has been hiding from her own POV?!
Still, I'm intrigued enough to read the third book in the series when it comes out.